Duarte vs Jansen: shooting from the lip

What to make of the war of words that has erupted between Jonathan Jansen and Jessie Duarte?

Briefly, ANC spokesperson Duarte is demanding that recently installed University of the Free State rector Jansen apologise for calling Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga a ‘lazy and incompetent minister, if one takes into account her record as MEC in Gauteng”.

In an open letter to Jansen Duarte fires back: ‘In our society we have learned the hard way through the misogynistic approach of the highly educated academics that acclaimed apartheid never existed.

It appears that Jonathan Jansen belongs to this ilk ...
How often did we not hear African people in particular being described as ‘lazy and stupid’ by well-educated professors with internationally recognised credentials?”

Duarte’s strategy to deflect Jansen’s comments on commitment and competence draws attention to a key issue in the national debate about governance.
To what extent does demonstrated loyalty to the new powers at Luthuli House outweigh ability and competence in making Cabinet appointments?

This is a key issue that runs through much recent political controversy in the post-Mbeki era and, if widespread anxiety about the possible appointment of Judge John Hlophe to the Constitutional Court is to be believed, it appears now to be overflowing into the judiciary too.

The second issue is the depth of the government’s commitment to improving education. This I think is Jansen’s real concern and his record of publications, both academic and in the popular press, bears this out. But Jansen shoots from the hip and he has previously targeted the ANC; they are after all the governing party. Take for example his article ‘Vital questions for politicians” (The Times, January 29).

Noting that ‘Nothing dismays me more than politicians promising things when they know they have neither the will nor the capacity to deliver,” he poses his first question: ‘What will your party do if an MEC for education in one of the provinces shows blatant disregard for a scheduled meeting of the minister of education to discuss the opening of the school year and trots off to attend the court proceedings for the president of her political party?”

The MEC who prompted this question was Angie Motshekga, who skipped class to be at one of Jacob Zuma’s court appearances.

More shooting from the hip is Jansen’s article ‘Long leave, comrades, long leave” in The Times last month, which consists of a mocking satirical dialogue in ‘Sadtu’s political education class 101”: ‘Cde Justice: ‘Sorry comrades, I don’t understand. Must we not choose the most competent people for the job, those who can deliver on the needs of the poor?’
‘Lem: ‘Listen, you fool, political positions are not about competence!

How do you think Comrade Manto kept her job and Comrade Angie got hers? You do not have to
be competent — All you need to do is show up at the right funerals and at the right courts and, before you can say deployment, you’re high up on the party list.

Competence is a bourgeoisie word, remember. So go out there and wreck some township schools!’” Provocative stuff perhaps, but off the mark? Depends what you’re aiming at.

Jansen cannot be faulted for lack of commitment nor indeed for lack of insight. Regrettably, it seems the ANC, as governing party, can, which is exactly what Jansen’s consistent critique has aimed at.

So we should understand Jansen’s frustration with Motshekga’s appointment to head the newly created ministry of basic education, a portfolio that will require considerable commitment, hard work, management and leadership to get functioning within the government’s broad policy framework.

Duarte’s reframing of Jansen’s critique as complicit with misogyny and the discourse on ‘lazy and incompetent natives” resituates the critique from a concern with capability and capacity to discrimination.

Thus Duarte establishes a false choice, as President Barack Obama would say, between meritocracy and accountability on the one hand, and prejudice and discrimination on the other, as if aspiring to the former means sacrificing our national commitment to combating the latter.

Sadly, the ANC perpetuates this false dichotomy as a quick and effective means to neutralise criticism.

But more importantly, and more sadly, the fallacy is shown up by poor pass rates, deteriorating teacher morale and school violence, all indicators of incompetence and poor leadership, despite notable policies designed to address these challenges.

The full version of this article appears on historymatters.co.za, an initiative of South African History Online. Thomas Alberts writes on South African history and human rights and is enrolled for a PhD at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London

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